Supermarket self-serve checkouts covered in poo bacteria: Study

Supermarket shoppers have been implored to wash their hands immediately after using self-serve checkouts following a study that identified known disease-causing bacteria lurking on the terminals.

The study by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK looked at 19 things that people touch every day, from doorknobs to handrails and keyboards. Lab analysis found nearly all carried bacteria, but the worst offender by far was supermarket self-serve kiosks.

The checkouts were found to be harbouring five types of bacteria known to cause disease in people, including one commonly found in human faeces.

Supermarket self-serve checkout
Supermarket self-serve checkout users may be coming into contact with bacteria spread by other customers, according to a UK study. Source: Getty

E. coli was also reportedly found on almost every item analysed. E. coli infection is not usually fatal, but can cause diarrhoea, stomach cramps, fever and bloody stool, with serious cases requiring hospitalisation.

Living in a bacterial world

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Dr Adam Roberts, an expert in microbiology who analysed the swab results, said the findings demonstrate just how important proper hand hygiene is. "We live in a bacterial world - bacteria and microbes are everywhere, and we come into contact with them all day, every day," he said.

"It's vital to try to minimise their effects in terms of infection prevention and control, so when we touch our mouths or go to the toilet and don't wash our hands, we've likely got bacteria from these places on our hands which can then transfer to other things - and subsequently to other people."

Close-up of enterococcus faecalis on an agar plate
Enterococcus faecalis, commonly found in human faeces, was identified on some supermarket self-service checkout terminals in the UK. Source: Getty

Dr Roberts added that for most of the population, infection with these common bacteria might only result in a mild illness, but vulnerable people like children, the elderly or people who are immunocompromised could be placed at serious risk. "If those individuals are more susceptible to infection than you are, there may be a problem," he said.

Aussie supermarkets

Yahoo News reached out to major Australian supermarkets for their response to the UK study. While Aldi declined to comment and Coles is yet to respond, a spokesperson for Woolworths said: "Our self service checkouts are regularly cleaned during the day by Woolworths team members. Other touch points in the self service areas are also cleaned and we also have hand sanitiser available for customers to use."

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